Hoover quoted on Indian tribes use education to get voice heard
Many of the tribes that have been most successful in getting their voice heard in resource protection have used education, says Elizabeth Hoover, a Brown University assistant professor and researcher of environmental health and justice in native communities. “If you don’t have people in your community with those science degrees, they [state and federal agencies] don’t see you as qualified,” she says.
One example, Hoover says, is the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in upstate New York. For years the tribe has dealt with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the St. Lawrence River and the state put fish advisories in effect that said not to eat most of the fish. “From the state’s point of view, less PCB exposure … there, we’ve solved the problem,” Hoover says.
But such advisories don’t take into account the cultural aspects. “The family relations around the culture of fishing, interactions with grandfather, tying nets, interactions on water, language being lost for specific words for color and textures,” Hoover says.
The tribe placed a premium on its members getting science degrees, bolstered its Environment Division, going from one person to a whole department. They helped write the latest fish consumption guidelines, taking into account tribal traditions of catching and eating fish, and created more nuanced rules.